Nebraska Nonprofit Teaches Youth and Community About Sustainability

Young Urban Farmers

January 23, 2014

A nonprofit organization that has made a difference for beginning, immigrant, and refugee farmers in Lincoln, Nebraska is now reaching out to youth.

Community CROPS (Combining Resources, Opportunities, and People for Sustainability) has a simple, but lofty mission - help people work together to grow healthy food and live sustainably.

What started as a single community garden in 2003 has grown to more than 13 community garden sites, a training farm, a successful Community Supported Agriculture program, a regular stand at the Old Cheney Road Farmers’ Market, and more. Prior to 2010, Community CROPS received two NCR-SARE grants — one to develop an urban gardening project, and another to develop an immigrant farming project.

In 2010, Community CROPS had funding in place to construct a hoop house, raised beds, and a mini student-run farmers market at local Mickle Middle School. They wanted to create a Young Farmers Program to expand their efforts to help young people grow their own food, and looked to NCR-SARE’s Youth Educator Grant Program for assistance. They were awarded $2,000 to strengthen and build upon their initial funds and expand to create new youth growing projects.

“In 2010, CROPS and the original project coordinator had just started youth agriculture projects with Mickle Middle School, but the activities were quite limited in comparison to what they are now, two years later,” said Ingrid Kirst, Executive Director of Community CROPS.

Working with youth participants at Lincoln’s community centers, they arranged field trips to the CROPS training farm to learn about growing first-hand. The purpose of their field trips was to expose youth to the dynamics of sustainable agriculture and show them the connection among food, nature, and health. They provided educational materials, conducted field tours, held cooking demonstrations, taught youth about natural resource conservation, and provided general activities like sack races.

Community CROPS worked with a number of different organizations to recruit youth tour groups, including local schools, Girl Scouts, a summer youth program, and various after school programs. The farm tours reached about 400 youth of various ages, from kindergartners to teenagers.

“We chose the field trip to the farm as a means to exposure and education because we felt it was the best way for the youth to truly understand and make the connections that we describe in the classroom,” explained Kirst. “We showed them first hand food growing in the field, bugs and pollinators contributing to production, and how human’s choices impact the systems involved.”

The farm staff assisted in setting up the activities at the events, helped provide tours of the farm, and helped run the activities. Farm staff also brought the expertise and knowledge of the farm, the crops planted, and the daily labor involved in maintaining the farm.

Teachers, parents, and youth staff brought the students and youth out to the farm and served as leaders to the groups. They participated in the activities with the youth, helping them along the way, and Kirst says they learned from the tour themselves.

Kirst said that the youth who attended the tours were generally unaware of this type of agriculture prior to the farm tour. Their enthusiasm for learning during the field trip inspired the program organizers.

“We expected that the youth would have little exposure to sustainable agriculture... In that aspect, we were correct, and it reinforced the need to continue conducting the tours in the future,” said Kirst.

Kirst and her staff are excited to reach even more students and community members in their area, building a path for the community toward learning about sustainable agriculture.

In fact, in 2011 they received a fourth NCR-SARE grant for a Growing Farmers Training Program, which will provide training and technical assistance to limited resource farmers in Southeast Nebraska to grow and sell sustainable agricultural products.

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Topics: Community Development, Local and Regional Food Systems, Sustainable Communities, Urban Agriculture
Related Locations: North Central